Charles Kennedy – 2005 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the then Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, to the 2005 Liberal Democrat Conference in Blackpool on 22nd September 2005.



Rival camps,


Leadership speculation.

How I wish I could be a fly on the wall here at the Tory party conference in two weeks time.

Some things just don’t change do they.

The Conservatives are having yet another leadership election.

Their fourth in seven years.

I can see their conference slogan already.

“We’re not sure what we’re thinking”.

Meanwhile, back in Labourland, the jockeying goes on as ever between the Blairites and the Brownites.

Tony Blair – desperate to protect his legacy.

Gordon Brown – desperate to end it.

The Prime Minister was delighted he had a hand in bringing the Olympics to London.

It’s said on hearing the news he punched the air.

He’s getting more like John Prescott everyday.

But at least he’s not yet claimed credit for the Ashes.

Even he has learned the lesson that you can’t win with a team of eleven spinners!

Now, at the general election it was crucially important to see our liberal tradition again confirmed as the growing force in politics.

Our championing of the individual and the community over the vested interests of the state.

Our defence of human rights and fundamental civil liberties.

Our innate sense of fairness.

Our commitment to social justice.

Our environmentalism.

It is my determination that we, as a party, continue to make that fundamental restatement of liberal values in the politics of our country.


It’s remarkable the pace of events since that General Election.

Some events of the most immediate and terrible seriousness – like the awful consequences of the hurricane in the United States.

The continuing nightmare in Iraq.

And of course, terrorism – here at home.

Above all, the London bombings in July have made it critical for those liberal values to be re-asserted.

The terrorist seeks to smash the most fundamental liberty of all – the right to lead our everyday lives on the basic assumption of safety.

There can be no compromise with such a mentality.

It is the Government’s fundamental duty to ensure the security of every individual citizen.

And the responsibility of politicians is to frame laws which give effect to that principle.

But the response must always be proportionate to the threat.

That has always been our party’s approach.

It long predates those appalling attacks in London in July.

The Government’s reaction to those tube bombings has been mixed – but so typical.

At first it was measured.

Then it was muddled.

Spin and counterspin.

When what we really needed was leadership and clarity.

This is no time for a turf war between No. 10 and the Home Office.

And it is no time either for the Prime Minister to play politics with the leaders of the opposition.

I believe when the country feels threatened it is important that we are seen to be working together to find an appropriate structure for dealing with terrorists in our midst.

But I won’t play a walk-on part.

This process can’t be all show and no substance.

We now have the details of what the Government is proposing.

And I want to make it clear.

We shall not accept what is on offer.

There can be no consensus on detaining people for three months without charge.

That’s a prison sentence by any other name.

This party will oppose any blanket extension of custody powers.

This proposal undermines our most basic rights and eats into our most cherished freedoms.

If we undermine the foundations of our legal system then we let the terrorists win.

There is always a temptation for governments.

See a problem and announce a quick fix.

Labour’s gut reaction is to chase a headline.

Where as I said earlier, leadership has to be about judgement.

New law must be law which works – not a raft of unnecessary measures which simply sound tough.

That is why we will oppose the unworkable offence of ‘glorifying terrorism’.

It is a badly drafted proposal that frankly won’t stand up in court.

The Government says ‘but we all know what we are talking about’.

What complacency.

That is no way to make laws.

You can’t be vague when framing legislation.

In fact the bill already contains a better solution that will serve the same purpose – that of the incitement to commit terrorist acts.

It is my belief that how this administration deals with the ongoing threat of terrorism will be one of the defining aspects of this parliament.

Ours will be a distinct voice in this debate.

And just as we Liberal Democrats opposed the flawed logic of that war in Iraq – we will oppose the flawed Government claim that we have to surrender our fundamental rights in order to improve our security.

And I will take no lessons from the Conservatives on these matters.

They have only been consistent in their inconsistencies.

There is just one party which has been tested again and again and stuck firmly to its principles on these touchstone issues.

It’s our party, the Liberal Democrats.

That is not to say we will oppose for opposition’s sake.

Some aspects of the Government’s proposals are good.

We agree it should be an offence to plan terrorist acts.

We agree it should be an offence to provide training to terrorists.

We agree it should be an offence to incite terrorism.

But even if we can get our domestic response to terrorism right, we will not succeed unless, and until, we get our foreign policy right.

Along with President Bush, Tony Blair’s so-called ‘war on terror’ has been so badly implemented that it has actually boosted the terror threat not diminished it.

When they should have been concentrating on bringing a proper peace to Afghanistan – Bush and Blair waged war in Iraq.

It is our stance on the war in Iraq which has defined the Liberal Democrats for so many people.

And however hard this Government tries – it cannot ‘ move on’.

It cannot move on, when the Prime Minister remains in denial.

It can’t move on when people are dying every day.

And it cannot move on when our British troops are still there in the firing line.

It is absurd for this Government to pretend that what has happened in Iraq has no impact beyond its borders.

The reality is that invading Iraq was a terrible mistake.

And given all the warnings that I – and this party – made at the time – the failure to plan properly for the aftermath is unforgivable.

The invasion of Iraq has created a volatile, fragmented country now facing the threat of civil war.

The terrorists have been given a new lease of life.

Thousands have been killed in Iraq since the elections there.

The UN mandate is running out.

So hard choices must now be made.

Parliament must play a central part in those choices.

The Government must confront the fact that the presence of British and American forces in Iraq is a part of the problem.

After this week’s events in Basra we cannot sustain the myth that Iraqis see coalition troops as liberators.

What they see is an occupation.

The Government must wake up and admit its responsibility.

The Prime Minster’s pride should not get in the way of finding a solution for the people of Iraq.

His blind support for George Bush is continuing to cost lives –

Iraqi citizens and coalition soldiers.

It’s time he laid before parliament a proper, structured exit strategy for the phased withdrawal of British forces from Iraq.

They have served there with distinction, courage and skill.

But Prime Minister, what people are asking now is “when can our troops come home?”


Just as we showed over Iraq, we have achieved the most when we have stuck to our liberal values.

Now, more than ever, we must avoid getting distracted by noises off about whether we are left or right.

Viewing British politics through the prism of left vs. right is completely the wrong vantage point and it leads to quite a misleading view.


Because all experience shows that the vast majority of people no longer see their choices in old-fashioned left-right terms.

It is no longer possible to categorise most issues like that.

Just look at the things we have been discussing at conference this very week.

Meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals and controlling the flow of small arms to regions of conflict.

Maintaining both our security and our civil liberties.

Getting rid of the obsession with central control and target setting.

Race relations.

School discipline.

These don’t fall neatly into the old left/right axis.

Our solutions are liberal solutions based on our liberal principles.

Proposals to make the Post Office network viable and give Royal Mail the commercial freedom to compete.

Not left – not right – but liberal.

Proposals to reform the European Union budget.

Not left – not right – but liberal.

Proposals on tackling anti-social behaviour – solutions that Liberal Democrats in power up and down the country are already implementing.

Not left – not right – but liberal solutions that actually work.

Colleagues, we must not allow ourselves to be led by the media and define our debate in their terms.

This left/right, either/or mindset is out of date and out of time.

It is Liberal Democrat solutions that this country needs.

Our take on things.

Not the false interpretation of others, many of whom don’t wish us to succeed.

And let me say this clearly and firmly.

There is absolutely no contradiction between economic liberalism and financial discipline on the one hand, and fairness and social justice on the other.

I find it deeply ironic that as we approach the centenary of the greatest reforming Liberal Government ever that some people still believe you cannot reconcile the two.

Those who argue that somehow this party must choose one or the other would have received short shrift from Asquith and Lloyd George.

They would have found that argument utterly ludicrous.

We must display the liberal values that lie behind a particular stance on an issue, or a particular approach to a policy area.

In doing so we achieve lasting political credibility.

And it’s bringing results.

We run cities – Liverpool, Newcastle, Durham, Cambridge, York.

We run County Councils like Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.

London boroughs like Islington and Southwark.

Today we have MPs in almost every major city – Manchester, Leeds, London, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh.

At the election we doubled our representation in Wales.

And in Scotland the result gave us more seats and more votes than any party except Labour.

The SNP down to third and the Tories a poor fourth.

When you look at our record in Government in Scotland it demonstrates how successful we are at implementing our policies that spring from those liberal values.

In Jenny Willott, Julia Goldsworthy and Jo Swinson we have the youngest MPs in Wales, England and Scotland – all women elected to parliament as Liberal Democrats.


So the political framework in Britain is changing.

And we are an integral part of that process.

But I believe the changes go deeper than that.

A debate has now been joined about Britishness, about our sense of national identity.

And what’s so telling are the morose tones of so many when they address the issue.

They talk of a disconnected country; a society ill at ease with itself; a crisis in our national identity.

Profound questions are being raised over race and faith as well; concerns which go to the heart of our multi-racial, multi-faith, multi-cultural society.

Concerns which cannot adequately be addressed if politicians merely fall back on simplistic responses to complex questions, or speak in emotive or pejorative terms about what it should mean to be British today.

I am far more an optimist.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been born, educated and brought up, and always considered home to be the Highlands.

I think of myself as a highlander first.

But with it a Scot – and with that I’m British.

And through that a citizen of Europe.

When England play Scotland at rugby, or much more rarely now, in football – I have not doubt who I want to win.

But I cheered England through the Ashes.

I got caught up in the national mood.

I’m clear about my identity.

And in that, I am no different to tens of millions of British citizens.

We have recognise the complexity of our country – from city to city, community to community.

We have to recognise that the best way to tackle the tensions in our society is community by community.

We need stronger local politics.

And that requires a changed mindset among politicians and civil servants alike.

The truth is the gentleman in Whitehall does not know best.

If he had then many of the present difficulties might have been addressed more successfully and much sooner.

The same is true for our public services.

Labour’s obsession with authoritarian central control – with this culture of target setting and micromanaging – distorts community priorities.

It means that local people are making do with inadequate and badly structured services.

Yet they feel they don’t have the power to make real change in their communities.

That is why I am determined that in our policy review we will look at new and innovative ways of devolving power – of raising more money locally – to be spent locally – on what local people really want.

Ours is the liberal conscience and the liberal voice.

It’s vital and authentic.

Because to a far greater extent than any of the others we are a political party that is instinctively decentralist.

Community solutions are the first and best approach.

And why?

Because we trust people.


But what trust can people have in our electoral system in return.

Let’s be clear about one unarguable conclusion of this year’s general election.

Ask yourself – how many votes did it take to elect a Liberal Democrat MP?

Well it was 96,000.

And to elect a Labour MP? The equivalent figure? Just 26,000.

People have every right to feel cheated by a system in which 4 out of 5 eligible voters did not vote Labour, yet people woke up the next morning to find a majority Labour government.

After all the other arguments collapsed over Iraq, Tony Blair fell back into saying that it was essential to help establish democracy.

He might have had a bit more credibility if he set an example here at home.

Because what kind of democracy was it that delivered back in May?

A democracy which returns an outright majority on little more than a third of the popular vote.

How can we any longer call something like that “the popular vote”?

How “popular” was the Government – even among those who did vote Labour?

That’s Blairite democracy for you.

This Prime Minister has got to realise – he may have a working majority, but he cannot claim any moral mandate.

This argument – about Westminster voting reform – just won’t go away.

And we’re not going to let it go away.

Even with the odds stacked against us, the truth is, at this election, Labour became just as worried about the Liberal Democrats as they ever were about the Tories.

And in that they were undoubtedly correct.

We represent a change to the status quo.

An end to their comfortable two party system.

We threaten directly their arrogance in power.

And I say to all those who held their nose last May and voted Labour without conviction – don’t get fooled again.

But you know what I reject most of all is the idea of British politics being a desultory contest between two essentially conservative parties.

One calls itself Conservative.

The other conducts itself as conservative.

I don’t care if one is led by a Davis or a Clarke.

I don’t care if the other is led by a Blair or a Brown.

What people don’t want, don’t deserve and don’t demand is yet another conservative party in British politics.

Small c or capital c.

That part of the pitch is already overcrowded.

And I can assure all of you – I did not enter public life with the ambition of leading yet another conservative party in British politics.

I’m happy to leave it to others to compete over a law of diminishing returns.

One where the level of Labour support is on the slide.

And the Conservatives cannot break through a losing glass ceiling.

At the next general election you could well be looking at a situation where it is understood that the Conservatives cannot win –

But that Labour can certainly lose.

That’s our opportunity.

That’s our challenge.


When this Labour Government falls – which one day it surely will – the party that is ready for the challenge of government will be ours.

I will lead this party into the next election as the clear alternative to a discredited Labour Government.

It’s my ambition to lead the first government in the liberal tradition in the 21st Century.

Because, it is my ambition to restore to government in Britain the fairness, the decency and the tolerance that should be the hallmarks of our democracy and our society.

I want a Britain that tackles poverty – and with it the poverty of ambition.

I want a Britain in which every one of our children has the opportunities I had growing up – and more besides!

A Britain in which ambition and opportunity is not diminished by the circumstances of birth.

I want a Britain which pays its debt to our older generation.

Which looks after them when they are ill and in need.

Which provides our pensioners with dignity, security and peace of mind.

I want a society that tackles crime – but really does tackle the causes of crime.

I want a Britain where older people again feel safe to answer their doors.

Where parents can let their children walk to school – or play in the park – without the incessant worry.

Where our streets and town centres are free from fear at night.

And I want a system of prison, punishment and rehabilitation that produces people fit for work not just fit for re-offending.

I want a Britain with first class public services, so that people can be treated well in a local hospital, and they don’t have to shop around for a decent school – they are there on the doorstep.

I want a Britain that has a vibrant growing economy – that rewards success, not penalises it.

That encourages innovation and entrepreneurs, setting them free from over-regulation and the dead hand of government.

Only in that way can we hope to generate the revenue to afford the world-class services we need as a country.

I want my child to grow up in a Britain in which the environment is protected.

I want him to enjoy our natural landscape every bit as much as I do.

To breathe clean air.

It will be our children and their children who will feel the full consequences of climate change.

We have got to get serious about this.

I’m sick and tired of hearing Tony Blair make excuse after excuse for George Bush.

We need action and we need it now.

I want a Britain that is pro-European and proud of it.

That lives up to its responsibilities on the international stage – that values international law – that is genuinely outward looking and emphatically internationalist.

Because, I want a Britain that is respected around the world.

These are the ambitions that brought me into politics in the first place 25 years ago.

These are the things that have driven me over those years – and still drive me.

They are what I want the Liberal Democrats to achieve.

Not for me, not for us, but for Britain.

A Liberal Democrat Britain.

Mark Oaten – 2005 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference

Below is the text of the then Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesman, Mark Oaten, at the 2005 Liberal Democrat Conference in Blackpool on 21st September 2005.

On the 8th of July, a journalist came up to me and asked if it was difficult time to be a liberal.

I had no hesitation in saying no. Why? Because it’s never been more important to be a liberal than today.

Never more important to speak up for freedom.

Never more important to speak up for justice.

Never more important to make sure the terrorists don’t change our way of life.

I am proud to be a liberal in these difficult times because I know our values are the values that can defeat terrorists.

But conference as a party we must recognise the ways in which these events in July have changed our country.

We face an evil enemy.

An enemy where 4 young men are so dedicated to their appalling cause that they are prepared to kill themselves and others.

So we must take steps to stop these terrorists and in doing so protect our freedom – the freedom to live our lives without fear of bombs and attacks.

That is why I want to speak to you today about the new anti-terror laws and  about our vision for stronger communities

Charles Kennedy and I, in the weeks after July, felt that if possible the political parties should seek consensus.  We agreed to support three measures that have been put forward by the Home Secretary:

Making it an offence to train terrorists; to prepare for a terrorist attack; and to incite terrorist activity.

Now we know the measures on indirect incitement will be hard to draft – they must be robust enough to work in court, but not so wide that they are open to abuse.

But – last week the Home Secretary went further and in doing so has tested the growing consensus and created two new measures we can’t support.

We can’t support a wide and vague offence that allows glorification of terror to become a crime. What on earth does that mean. One person’s terrorist is another freedom fighter. This is a dangerous proposal, hard to define in theory, unworkable in practice, and putting freedom of speech at risk.

And we can’t support plans to hold people for three months without charge. The case is simply not made.

Let me be clear Liberal Democrats will not support what amounts to a new policy of internment.

Labour tells us we must give up our hard-fought civil liberties in exchange for more security.

But, conference, if we abandon traditions and values like the right to a fair trial, we are abandoning our identity.

If we give up the fundamental principles of justice, we are giving in to the terrorists.

And if we sacrifice our liberal society we will be weaker, not stronger.

So conference,  measures on terrorism will have our support.

But here are our conditions.

First, measures must be effective and necessary and not just showpiece.

Second, they should not encroach on our values and principles of justice.

Third, they should be subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny – because we know that rushed laws are bad laws.

So conference, today we send a message to the Home Secretary:

Yes, we will work with you.

But we will also defend the rights and liberties of the country.

There will be no blank cheque from the Liberal Democrats.

I also want to say a word about the victims of that outrage in July.

Hardly talked about these days.

Victims who may have to wait 15 months for compensation.

Many face expensive bills as they can no longer work.  Many require specialist treatment for the loss of limbs and need money to adapt their homes to cope with their new disability.

This literally adds insult to inquiry.

So today I call on the government to speed this up and may quick and fair payments.

It is the very least we can do.

But we don’t solve terrorism with new laws alone.

You bury your head in the sand if you do not ask uncomfortable questions.

So much of Labour’s response to the events of 7th July has focused on deportation that you would be forgiven for thinking the bombers were foreign.

They weren’t.  They were British – born and bred.  Britain created them.  And they turned on us.

But why?

Britain is home to and enriched by the contributions of a hundred different cultures. In the aftermath of the bombings the vast majority of Britons refused to be divided.

And that is a great tribute to the British tradition of tolerance.

But we cannot ignore the upsurge in racially and religiously motivated violence that British Muslims have suffered in recent weeks.

These communities are our communities.  We must stand united against those who seek to attack them.

Neither can we ignore the deep anger that is felt across the Muslim community about the war in Iraq.

Let me be clear. We should not be ashamed to point to that link. By doing so we  begin to understand the causes.  And if Mr Blair wants to understand terrorism and work with the Muslim community, he needs to acknowledge that link too.

But there are other ways in which we can combat the long-term causes of division in our country.

It often seems that, in this country, rather than creating a melting pot, we have created a mosaic society.  From a distance, it looks healthy enough.  Get up close, and you start to see the gaps.

A society in which communities co-exist, yet lead parallel lives – a community of communities, too often unaware to the concerns and realities of their fellow Britons.

Just because several communities live within one of our cities, it doesn’t mean that the city is multicultural.  Not if they live separate lives, in separate parts of the city, never meeting or mixing.

Terrorism plays on these gaps in our society.

On our ignorance of each other’s way of life.

On our lack of confidence as a society about who we are and what we stand for.

If we want to create a safer society then it is our job to address these problems.

We must work to address the genuine concerns, which exist throughout our country, about the state of multiculturalism.

We must make New Britons feel that this is their society. That it is a society in which they and their families will be able to fulfil their potential.  And we must in particular address the appalling deprivation experienced by second, third and fourth generation Muslims.

We must, as a political party, do more to encourage greater participation in the political process.

Following the July bombings I remember waking up and watching Breakfast TV. Three young Muslim men were being interviewed – they were passionate, articulate and enthusiastic. These people would make great champions of their communities.  As a party we must do more to get them involved – standing for councils, standing for Parliament and representing our country.

So whilst we seek to try and unite our parties on terrorism, there is much that separates us from New Labour, and in particular Charles Clarke.

In a recent interview, he said: “I don’t like liberals. I am not soft. I am neither woolly or liberal or a woolly liberal. I have never been liberal in my life. I don’t like liberal with a capital L or a small l” !!!

Well Mr Clarke, I’ve got a message for you from conference. Here, we’ve always been liberals, we are liberals, and we always will be liberals. Big L, small, L medium sized L?

And we’re proud to be liberal.

But you know, I think perhaps he protests just a little too much. There’s a liberal in him somewhere, just fighting to get out.

After all, he’s the one with the beard, not me.

And as far as “soft liberal” goes. No way. I’m not having that.

There is nothing soft about our liberalism, last year I argued that our liberalism was tough, tough Liberalism. Tough because our solutions are not quick fix solutions. Tough because are solutions can take longer, tough because they are harder on the individual it is aimed at but, and here’s the point – its more effective in the long run.

And I get annoyed when the media ask if this left or right- when they ask about our future direction.  Our new policies for the future should come from one set of values alone- liberal values.

We are 21st century liberals with ideas for the future and today I want to set out some new ideas on tackling crime in this country.  Ideas on Prison, Police and Respect.

I believe now is the time for the most radical reform of prisons this country has ever seen. Prisons in this country are an national disgrace.

Crumbling Victorian buildings.

Cramped over crowded prison cells.

The highest prison population in Europe.

Already in this year alone 60 prisoners have committed suicide.

Drugs are freely available.

8,000 prisoners have serious mental health problems.

And within 2 years of release, 59% of prisoners are back in court with another addition to their criminal record.

The consequences of which mean more crimes and victims and more people whose lives should have been turned round by prison end up turning straight back into prison.

So here’s a different way forward, a tough way forward and a liberal way forward. Getting prisoners out of the cells and into the classroom. Teaching them skills to read and write. Investing in training and proper backup and support on release.

But I’d like to go further than just reforming the prisons themselves. A negative culture is built into the very bricks of our older jails.  Charles Clarke wants to re name them as community prisons- but you don’t get change with just a new name.

Now is the time for these crumbling prisons to be knocked down and for new modern secure units to be built. So the next generation of young criminals experience a tough regime in these centres which will prevent them from committing crimes in the future and end the revolving door of re-offending.

Education – rehabiliation- a liberal solution

I believe these reforms could drastically cut crime in this country. But we also need a strong, well-resourced police force to tackle that as well. I believe we have one of the best police forces in the world. But lets as a party have an ambition to make it the very best in the world. Properly resourced, properly accountable and with the tools to tackle the problems from international terrorism and street vandalism at the same time.

At the last election we talked about a technological revolution. Techno cop not paperclip cop – was all about giving police 21st century equipment to tackle 21st century crime.

But I want to go further today and suggest that police become more accountable to local communities and become more open to the outside in meeting their difficult challenges.

Two weeks ago I visited the NYPD – I’ll admit not natural ground for liberal thinking, but I was taken with the way the police in NY had been revitalised by bringing in officers with non-police backgrounds. Why is it that people that have run large hospitals, companies and charities, people who are experts in intelligence and investigation, are excluded from senior positions in the force?

We need to move away from the position where all our senior police officers started as bobbies on the beat.

We must encourage fresh ideas but let’s not restructure just for the sake of it. On Monday the Home Secretary announced plans to merge and abolish some of our police forces.

We should be making them more local, not more distant. People want to have the confidence that police know the area, that Chief Constables will visit and know every town and village in their area.

So we say keep the forces as they are but provide a national resources unit with senior officers and experts to provide back up in complex cases.

So Home Office – hands of our local forces- lets keep them as they are.  We don’t want Clarke police, we want community police.  And that’s a liberal solution.

Let’s go out and campaign to keep our local forces.

But prison and police are about when its gone wrong.

What about stopping crime in the first place?

Labour’s solution is always the nanny solution. A new law here, a regulation there. A ban today and a dispersal order tomorrow. It’s an alphabet of mismanagement.

A is for ASBO

B is for banning

C is for curfew

D is for dispersal order

But it’s all about E

E for elections.

The problems of anti social behaviour-  the respect agenda – are not going to be solved by focusing simply on the symptoms and not the causes.

That’s why our support for ASBOS is limited as they are quick fix solutions.  Our policy of ASBOS plus- which links punishment with measures to tackle the problems is more effective

And as for respect- well you don’t create respect by banning hoodies in town centres.

That is Labour’s answer, not ours.

Conference, we must do better.  We know that society has changed.  Longer working hours, more time spent commuting and sitting in front of the TV, less time with the kids, more families splitting up.

We’re less likely to chat to the neighbours over the garden fence.  We’re more likely to put up a taller fence so we don’t have to talk to them in the first place.

Conference, we didn’t come into politics to watch British society become a society of strangers.

We need new ways of knitting communities together.  New ways of building bridges between individuals and between the generations.  And new ways of inspiring our young people and showing them that there is so much more to life.

As Liberal Democrats have been good at talking about freedom from oppression, regulation and conformity.

But we have not been good at articulating a vision of our ambitions for individuals and communities.

Liberal Democrats have always understood that strong families and strong communities matter. This is our natural terroritory.  We should reclaim it.

Charles Kennedy has asked Ed Davey, our education spokesman, to join with me in putting forward measures to link education and community to help tackle this. We will be reporting to the spring conference.

But it strikes me there is a golden opportunity to re think the end of the academic year. At 16 all the focus and money we spend is aimed at passing exams.

Imagine this. A scheme which allowed all 16 year olds the opportunity to spend a month away from home, in different communities, volunteering for one of hundreds of different projects. To take a 16 year old, perhaps for the first time, away from his estate or troublesome peer group could create enormous opportunities.

Because we should remember that not every child has the opportunity of  a gap year

And we should use sport to achieve much more. Our Olympic bid success can be used to help a generation. Imagine every child with access to a sports academy place learning team spirit and healthy activity.

So conference, in the months ahead we have much to do. As the Conservatives tie themselves up in yet another attempt to find a new leader, it will be left to us to make the case for police reform to keep local forces working with the community at the heart of tackling crime.

It will be us who will continue to demand a prison service fit for the 21st century, that goes beyond punishment and actually rehabilitates offenders.

It will be us who will develop the long term solutions for tackling today’s problems with anti social behaviour – giving as well as expecting respect from the younger generation.

And above all, as terrorism legislation begins its passage through parliament, it will be left to us to defend the values of justice and freedom – the values of our party – the values that make us proud to be Liberal Democrats.

Alistair Carmichael – 2005 Speech to Liberal Democrat Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by Alistair Carmichael in civil liberties to the Liberal Democrat Party Conference on 22nd September 2005.

If there is one issue which defines us as a party then surely it is liberty. For us to defend the right of the individual to live his or her life without undue interference from the state is as instinctive as it for Messrs Blair, Blunkett and Clarke to attack it.

Let us be clear. Being in favour of civil liberties is not about being “soft” on anyone. It is not about being soft on terrorism any more than it is about being “soft” on the anti-social behaviour that blights the lives of so many people in city centres and housing estates the length and breadth of our country. As Jim Wallace who was a formidable justice minister for four years in Scotland made clear yesterday, the liberty to bully abuse and intimidate your neighbour is not a civil liberty and those who do so will get no comfort or succour from this party.

To be fair, the New Labour government started well. The passing of the Human Rights Act incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into our laws was a major advance in protecting our freedoms. We supported that when they did it and we continue to support it today. What has become clear since, however, is that they had no idea what they were doing at the time. Since New Labour passed the Human Rights Act they have had little to say on the subject apart from lambasting and abusing the judiciary every time they implement it.

It is already clear when we return to Westminster in three weeks time we shall face another onslaught from a government determined to take control of every aspect of our lives. In the aftermath of the London bombings on 7th July the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary sought to establish a consensus on the measures that were needed to be taken. They were right to do so. Just as Mark Oaten and Charles Kennedy were right to respond positively as they did.  As ever, however, New Labour’s authoritarian instincts are kicking in. They now seek to push the boundaries of that consensus. Let me promise you this, conference, if a consensus ever emerges at Westminster that supports three months detention of suspects or the creation of new offences as vague and problematic as the glorification then that will be a consensus that will emerge without us. We shall not be part of it.

I have no doubt that we shall be misrepresented.  I have no doubt that we shall be abused. I have no doubt that we shall be accused of all manner of things. And do you know what?   I really don’t care. If we can not defend liberties as fundamental as these then what is the point of being in parliament? This is what I was elected by the people of Orkney and Shetland to do. Just as they elected Jim Wallace before me and Jo Grimond before him.

If civil liberties and human rights are important then they are important for everyone, regardless of nationality, race or religion. Just because someone has come here as an asylum seeker or has been brought here by a people trafficker to work in the sex trade or some other part of the black economy does not diminish their entitlement to fair and dignified  treatment by the state. That is why the government must now ratify without further delay the European Convention on the Trafficking of Human Beings. Even before that, however, there are changes that can and must be made now.

The recent publicity in Scotland surrounding the practice of dawn raids being made on the homes of families of failed asylum seekers  has shocked all right thinking people. The children’s Commissioner in Scotland has been unambiguous and absolute in her condemnation of it and she was absolutely right to do so. I wonder how many of those people who voted Labour in 1997 or again in 2001 or 2005 did so because they wanted to elect a government that would send immigration officials into a family home early in the morning to take children from their beds. It traumatises children. It demeans us all because it is done in our name by our government. It is barbaric and it has got to stop now.

Conference, we are to be asked to delete the part of this motion that asks us to deplore the planned introduction of compulsory identity cards and a national identity register.  I do not yet know why and I shall leave those who urge us to do so to explain their reasoning. I have to tell you, however, conference that I had the honour of leading for this party on the standing committee examining the ID Cards Bill. We went over that bill line by line and clause by clause. I have learned more about computerised identity databases and biometric information since May than I would ever have believed possible, let alone desirable. If I didn’t deplore the introduction of identity cards and the national identity register before I started that process then I certainly did by the time I finished it.

Conference, be quite clear. The introduction of identity cards is about a lot more than the issue of a piece of plastic to help us get access to our public services. It is in fact a fundamental rewriting of the relationship between the citizen and the state. The bill which is currently going through parliament places massive amounts power in the hands of the government to obtain hold and share information not just about who we are but also about where we have been and what we have done.

No doubt we shall be told that if we have nothing to hide then we have nothing to fear but those who hold that view fail to understand the nature of the relationship between the citizen and the state. It seems to assume that it is for the government to ask the citizen whether he or she has something to hide and that the citizen is somehow  answerable to the government. In a liberal society it is the other way round. The government is answerable to the citizen. The citizen should only have to justify themselves to the state if they are shown to have done something wrong.

The only saving grace about the government’s plans to introduce ID Cards is that you just know they are not going to work. The government is going to buy a computer system that will hold three pieces of biometric information about every citizen in the country, install card readers in every public office in the country, retain records of when and when that service is used. Aye right. I’ll believe it when I see it. This is the government that after years of trying has still not been able to buy a computer for the Child Support Agency that will work out 15% of an absent parent’s salary. Something most of us would call a calculator. The operation of identity cards is going to be a massive but as yet unquantified cost to the tax payer – or more likely the people who are to be compelled to have them. The LSE calculated that the cost to the individual required to pay for an identity card could be as much as three times the government estimates of £93. The best part of £300 for the privilege of having the government keep tabs on you. Conference if we do not deplore the erosion of our civil liberties then surely waste of public and private funds on this scale is something to be deplored.

History will record that this New Labour Government tried to rob us of some our most valuable freedoms. Let history also record that it was the Liberal Democrats who resisted and stopped them.